An adorable Foothill Felines female marble Bengal kitten.
CATNIP- Nepeta cataria or Nepeta mussinii , Labiatae (mint family); also catnep or catmint. French: chataire, Herbe aux Chats; German: Katzenminze; Italian: Erba gatta, gattaja; Dutch: kattekruid; Danish: storblomstret; Swedish: kattmynta; Spanish: menta de gato, hierba gatera, nebeda. Catnip is a grey-green, leafy member of the mint family. This hardy, robust perennial was originally grown throughout Europe, and was native to the dry regions of the Mediterranean, inland Europe, Asia, Eurasia and Africa. It was introduced in America long ago as a popular plant in herb gardens. Catnip came to the U.S. along with the pioneers, as a vital element of their kitchen gardens, useful as a medicinal tea to alleviate coughing, cold symptoms, upset stomach and to aid sleep. The plant soon escaped the confines of cultivation and naturalized throughout much of the continent. Catnip the herb is also employed as a remedy in the treatment of tension and anxiety, and is mentioned as being a useful calmative for hyperactive children. Also listed as a mild diaphoretic, catnip can be helpful in eliminating toxins from the body. Distilled oil from catnip can be procured from an herbal apothecary, and this oil is supposed to be a very effective appetite stimulant, and has been used in the treatment of anorexia.
Catnip loves full sun but can tolerate partial shade, and does well in almost any garden soil (pH between 5 and 7.5). It is more pungent when it is grown in sandy soil with full sun. Cataria grows to 4 feet tall and somewhat resembles stinging nettle. Mussinii grows to 1 foot, sprawls. It has a citrus-like scent and is sometimes called catmint . Bruising the leaves is what releases the powerful oils in the catnip which so many cats find irresistible!! Catnip is now mostly recognized for its use as a feline "aphrodisiac", although it is estimated that about 15-20% of cats do not have a response to catnip. The presence (or lack) of a response to catnip appears to be a genetic trait for cats. Since catnip triggers responses that are sex-behavior linked, kittens generally do not begin responding to catnip until they have started to sexually mature, at the age of six months. Studies have shown that the Big Cats (lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, etc.) also enjoy the effects of catnip!
It is the scent of catnip, not the consumption of it, that has such a dramatic effect on cats. When cats are enjoying the plant, they do often chew the leaves, but this may be merely to release more of the scent that is in the essential oils. It is the chemical nepetalactone , a volatile oil similar in structure to the sedative ingredient found in valerian root, another well known sedative herb, that triggers the response in cats' brains; however, because human brains are physiologically different, we must be content to gain any vicarious pleasure through watching our cat's enjoyment of the herb!!
Catnip is easily grown from seed, and can also be propagated from root division. Plant seeds 1/4 in. deep or shallower, they will usually germinate promptly. Space seedlings 18 to 24 in. apart, they transplant fairly happily. Catnip grows well in pots and window boxes, and even though it is a perennial, plan on re-planting several times a year if you are growing it in an area where your cats can get to it!!
Harvest your catnip as needed for fresh leaves. The leaves should be gathered when dry and fully grown. They should then be thoroughly dried in the sun and kept protected from the night air. For those who follow astrology, the leaves should not be gathered when Venus (the planet ruling the plant) is in the Tenth, Eleventh or Twelfth House. Catnip bears little clusters of whitish flowers with small purple dots. The downy, heart-shaped leaves are green above and whitish below. Catnip received its name because cats like to roll and play in the leaves. Some cats also enjoy eating catnip leaves, which are perfectly safe. Harvest flowering tops, the most potent part of the catnip plant, for drying, usually in July and September. For storage, the plants should not be tied in bundles, but kept in paper bags in dry places so that they may retain their color and fragrance properties as much as possible.
COOKING: Catnip can be used to add an unusual flavor to sauces, soups and stews, and be used as an herbal tea. When making herb teas, the leaves of some plants are used, the seeds of others, and the cut-up (or powdered) root of still others. When only the leaves or blossoms are used, it is only necessary to make an infusion by pouring boiling water over them in a pre-heated pot. When the stems are used, the tea should be steeped about 5 minutes. Seeds make a stronger tea than the leaves and should be crushed and boiled 5 minutes. To make an aromatic cup of catnip tea, steep a teaspoon of dried leaves in boiling water for 6 - 7 minutes. Add lemon and honey to taste. For a slightly stronger tea, add some crushed stem to the boiling water.
MEDICINAL PROPERTIES: Catnip tea is used for headaches and stomachaches, fresh leaves can be chewed for a headache. A tonic made from the plant is said to be a good remedy for colds. Catnip is an extremely safe herb, and there are no listed warnings or contraindications. The parts of the plant used for medicinal purposes are the leaves, and the chemicals this herb contains are:
All catnip is NOT created, processed or preserved equally!! The plants themselves have a tremendous variance in the pungency of their scent.
Furthermore, because the scent and essential oils that remain in the dried catnip are what cats respond to, you will find a great
deal of difference in your cat's response to dried catnip derived from different sources. Often, the sources that provide dried catnip do not have access to the fresh or properly stored catnip herb. You never know how long the herb has been in storage, or if the method that it has been
stored by has allowed much of the pungency to be lost. When the leaves have lost their color or scent, or have become inert, they are no longer fit for medicinal, cooking, or kitty play use.
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